Vaccinate Your Baby

Varicella/Chickenpox

Click on the photo above to open the Varicella (Chickenpox) page from the Vaccine-Preventable Diseases eBook!

The Disease

Varicella, commonly known as chickenpox, is a highly contagious disease caused by the varicella-zoster virus (VZV). It causes a blister-like rash, itching, tiredness, and fever. Although people usually think of chickenpox as a mild disease and a "rite of passage" for all children, the disease can be very serious and even deadly. People at high risk for severe illness and complications from chickenpox include infants, adolescents, adults, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems.

Chickenpox spreads easily from infected people to others who have never had chickenpox or received the chickenpox vaccine. The virus spreads in the air through coughing or sneezing, and by touching or breathing in the virus particles that come from chickenpox blisters. A person with chickenpox is contagious 1-2 days before the rash appears and until all blisters have formed scabs. Once the virus is in the body, it remains there for life and may reappear as shingles, a painful disease most often seen in adults over 60 years old.

Ten to twenty percent (10-20%) of pregnant women who get chickenpox will develop pneumonia and their chance of dying is as high as 40%. Learn more about the dangers of varicella to pregnant women. Newborns whose mothers develop chickenpox rash from 5 days before to 2 days after delivery are at risk for chickenpox shortly after birth, with the chance of death as high as 30%.

The Statistics

Before the chickenpox vaccine, approximately 4 million people in the U.S. got sick with the disease each year. About 10,600 people were hospitalized, and 100 to 150 died every year as a result of chickenpox.

Since the chickenpox vaccine was licensed in the U.S. in 1995, the number of people who get chickenpox as well as hospitalizations and deaths from the disease has declined dramatically.

The Vaccine

The varicella vaccine protects against chickenpox. For the best protection, 2 doses are needed. The first dose is given to children between 12-15 months of age, and the second dose is given between 4-6 years of age. The MMRV vaccine (combined measles, mumps, rubella, and varicella) is also available.

All adults who never had chickenpox and haven't been vaccinated against the disease need 2 doses of vaccine.

All women considering pregnancy should talk to their doctor to determine if they are protected against chickenpox. If they are not protected, women should get vaccinated at least one to three months before becoming pregnant. Pregnant women should not get the chickenpox vaccine.

Some people who have been vaccinated against chickenpox can still get the disease. However, the symptoms are likely to be milder with fewer blisters, and mild or no fever.

Additional Resources

 

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